August 18, 2014
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news this morning is from Mark 2:15-17.
While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. Some scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors and said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard this and said to them [that], “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
What a remarkable scene this is. Presumably, Jesus is at Levi’s house. It must have been quite a large house to accommodate so many people for a meal. It must have been quite noisy with food being placed on the table, wine being poured, voices rising as the din increased, more people entering the house to see Jesus until it was overflowing. What in the world were the scribes doing there? To fraternize with sinners and tax collectors and a man they had already accused of blasphemy would have stained them with sin as well. They held themselves apart, too good to socialize with ordinary people who were not necessarily immoral but were regarded as sinners because they didn’t adhere to all the purity laws or were engaged in occupations that made them impure like tanning hides.
It is as if Mark has written a dramatic scene for a play to more emphatically make his point. The point is that everyone is invited to the banquet that God has prepared for us — sinners and righteous alike. We are all loved unconditionally. God makes the rain fall on the just and unjust alike. Sometimes I see myself as a sinner and at other times I behave as if I’m one of the righteous, better and more favored that others. That’s the greater sin as Jesus repeatedly points out.
It occurred to me this past weekend as I was experiencing some turmoil that I don’t have difficulty understanding that God’s love is unconditional. The difficulty I have is accepting His love unconditionally — without question or doubt. His love is always freely and abundantly given to me, but I often judge myself to be unworthy of it. I am highly critical of myself especially in my failed attempt to be perfect. Of course, I will never be perfect; only God is perfect. But there is something inside me that thinks I should be. That’s what makes me vacillate between being one of the sinful and one of the righteous.
I was praying before Mass yesterday, praying for the ability to accept God’s love. And then it happened. His love flowed through me as light and warmth and peace. I have to allow myself to experience God rather than trying to understand him. I have to get out of my head and let my senses have sway. That’s the only way I’m ever able to be loved. To be, to feel. The scribes never allowed themselves to experience Jesus’ love; they remained in their heads trying to figure him out, judging him, and ultimately rejecting him.
That’s the lesson for me today. To allow myself to sit at the table with Jesus enjoying the bounty of the feast that God has prepared for me. To experience the company of Jesus, to be and not to think. For me that comes in prayer. What does that tell me? That I need to spend more time in conversation or silence with Jesus. It’s not enough for me to read scripture, to write these reflections, to be of service to another. I have to allow myself to be his beloved, basking in his freely given, unconditional love and acceptance.
I was writing in an old journal on Friday in which I had folded a poem entitled “Don’t Change.” The author isn’t indicated. I’m not certain where it came from, but I suspect my best friend gave it to me. It reads in part as follows.
“Then one day, he said to me, ‘Don’t change. I love you just as you are.’
Those words were music to my ears: ‘Don’t change. Don’t change. Don’t change…I love you as you are.’
I relaxed. I came alive. And suddenly I changed!
Now I know that I couldn’t really change until I found someone who would love me whether I changed or not.”
At at the bottom of the page is typed, “Is this how you love me, God?”
I’ve read that over and over the last few days. It’s hard to get into my head that God loves me whether I change or not. It’s even harder to believe that another person — someone I love — could love me whether I change or not. I can’t imagine someone who loves me telling me not to change. No one can love me that much! That’s where I’m going to be stuck until I accept the fact that God’s love isn’t contingent upon my changing. That’s why people flocked to Jesus and wanted to dine with him, were willing to follow him anywhere. He just loved and accepted them as they were, freeing them of their demons and sickness. We’re all possessed and sick. We all need Jesus’ healing love and acceptance and assurance that we don’t have to change to be loved.